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A SCRIPT AND A DREAM: MAKING 'AMERICAN DYSFUNCTION'

Wanted: A bar, a musty, dilapidated Victorian home, musicians, and volunteers who want to make a movie.

Local graphic artist/actor Tom McDade hopes to pull all those things together so he can make an independent art film, called "American Dysfunction," that he hopes will be set in the Buffalo area.

McDade, through his Elbow Soup Film company, and crew are searching for sets, a cast, and cash to get the project off the ground.

It all started two years ago when McDade advertised for a writing partner to help him with a screenplay. He teamed up with local writer David R. Williams and they co-wrote "American Dysfunction," which is described as a "dark, character-driven drama."

"I had this kernel of a story," said McDade, 31. "David and I got together, and from brainstorming, we put down characters, scenes on note cards, and ideas grew in our heads."

The first draft was finished a year ago, but McDade said it will not be complete until he sees it on the screen.

McDade, a Kenmore native who studied communications at the University at Buffalo, needed help to make the movie. Spreading the word of his project through friends, he soon had a volunteer production crew that meets after their full-time jobs several days each week.

"I just put the word out that I was putting a film together and soon people started knocking," he said. "I really can't say enough how dedicated they are."

The only criterion for working on McDade's production crew is enthusiasm.

"I'm coming in as an outsider and learning as I go," said his sister, Katie McDade, a 27-year-old corporate travel agent from Buffalo. "I've been learning about the amount of work in the pre-production stages, trying to get people excited about a project that wouldn't normally go on in Buffalo."

McDade and his crew hope to film the movie this fall, over six to eight weekends. So far, only one role has been filled. McDade said he is considering a big-name actor, but that he would pick a perfect actor over a golden name.

"I'm not casting someone to fit Joe's role. I'm looking for someone who walks in as Joe," he said of the film's main character.

Because of the mass turnout for the casting session of Vincent Gallo's "Buffalo '66" in March, there will not be open auditions, but McDade is still looking for sets and musicians. Specifically, he needs an old, run-down Victorian home, a bar, and musicians to help him make the movie's soundtrack.

The plot of "American Dysfunction" revolves around Joe, a musician in his 30s, who lives with Henry, an elderly professor. The story examines Joe's lack of direction and his inability to handle relationships. The movie is described as an examination of "love and hate, desire and obsession," with strong women, some sex, violence and the macabre. It ends with Joe's delivery of Henry's dead body to a friend's house.

McDade said the film is an examination of the commonalities among us, but in unusual circumstances.

"It's cool to be dysfunctional these days," he said. "Joe is in a situation that we've all been in, but not for the same reasons. I guess it's kind of indicative that I'm an artist in a very conservative town. It's like when you don't achieve what you want to do -- like not moving up as fast on the corporate ladder as you like -- that you get frustrated."

McDade said the screenplay alludes to his own life, especially through the personalities of the characters.

"The men are all dysfunctional, and the women have their stuff together, which is uncharacteristic of other films," he said. "I didn't do it consciously, but that's what all the women in my life have been like."

McDade is pinning his hopes on the success of other recent independent films, notably Edward Burns' "The Brothers McMullen" and Mike Figgis' "Leaving Las Vegas."

Sajjad Jaffer, of Buffalo, is handling the business aspects of the film -- raising money, creating the financial plan and finding ways to distribute the film. He said some New England companies seem interested in investing in the film, which has a budget of $150,000.

Because the budget is so small, Jaffer said the project requires careful planning.

"It's challenging, but that's the fun part of it," he said.

Jaffer and McDade hope to find a major distributor such as Miramax to distribute "American Dysfunction."

"Our goal is nothing less than having it distributed everywhere," McDade said. "It's not just going to show at Shea's and that's it."

Financial success, of course, is the ticket for his next project.

"We're trying to balance the art and the money," he said. "Money is not especially important, but you need it to make a film, and we want to make more than just one movie, we want to make several movies. But we have to start with the first one."

And what about the critics?

"I just haven't listened to them," McDade said. "I've just got to do this. I don't have a choice, really. If it fails, I'll just do the same thing again, and learn from the mistakes I made the first time."

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